2. THE POLITICAL ECONOMY OF NIGERIA
2.4 I NSTITUTIONAL A SSESSMENT : R ING - FENCING ?
2.4.1 The Presidency: Good Luck, Jonathan!
Political power in the Republic of Nigeria has been, and still is, highly centralised, and the presidency plays a prominent role in politics. In most African states, political power became centralised shortly after independence, but in Nigeria, this process was intensified by military rule and the need for controlling the oil revenues, creating what has been called an ‘imperial
presidency’, a ‘personal rulership’, and the ‘King in the Villa’.
29 Opinion expressed in several interviews.
30 Neo-patrimonialism is a term used for patrons using state resources in order to secure the loyalty of clients in the general population, and is indicative of informal patron-client relationships that can reach from very high up in state structures down to individuals in the smallest villages. Neo-patrimonialism supplants the bureaucratic structure of the state in that personal connection is the basis of real power, not formal position. This undermines political institutions and the rule of law, and is a corrupt (but not always illegal) practice. Neo-patrimonialism, defined by Christopher Clapham in The Nature of the Third World State, is a “form of organisation in which relationships of a broadly patrimonial type pervade a political and administrative system which is formally constructed on rational-legal lines.” It is a system in which a public office is used for personal gain, as opposed to a strict Weberian division of the private and public spheres.
The first military rulers, and in particular General Gowon, centralised most government functions into the hands of the president. Also General Babangida, whose regime started out as a more collegiate military oligarchy, developed the presidency into a more personal dictatorship, by for instance moving the Central Bank from the Ministry of Finance into the presidency. The height of power concentration was nevertheless reached under General Abacha (1993-1998), who also took control of the entire oil sector by giving the presidency full control of the national oil company (the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation, NNPC) and all oil trading. The president and minister of oil awarded oil blocks on a discretionary basis. Fees for the blocks were usually negotiated, secret, up-front and completely open to usurpation and corruption.
The Obasanjo administration decided to introduce an open competitive bidding system in 2000, but also Obasanjo, in his second term as elected president from 1999, remained his own oil minister for six years, micro-managing the petroleum sector from the presidency (Soares de Oliveira 2007:135, 136). Still, the Nigerian president is not only President of the Republic, Head of Government, and Chief Commander of the Armed Forces, he also has a more or less detailed, personal, day-to-day command of all political affairs. All strands of the state and the economy are tied to the presidency, the oil sector in particular.
The Constitution confers upon the Presidency a vast array of powers of appointment in the executive, judicial, and coercive apparatuses (see Annex 3 for details).31 These appointments run into several hundreds. In some cases the appointments are subject to advice by another public authority or institution, and/or confirmation by the Senate; in other cases they are not subject to any advice or confirmation. In some cases, the president can remove such appointees at will; in others his power of removal is subject to confirmation or consultation with another public authority or institution.
There has been much misuse of presidential appointment powers. Typically, senior officers in the public service with confirmed tenure until retirement can nonetheless be dismissed. This practice has taken place also under civilian rule, although many such dismissals and forced retirements have recently been challenged in court, sometimes successfully.32 However, where reinstatement has been ordered, the concerned officers can be marginalised and given nothing to do, or the reinstatement is tardy, or new grounds were found to terminate services again.
Perhaps was President Obasanjo’s military background and his experience as military ruler from 1966 to 1969 the qualifications needed for him to embark on a reform process as elected president of the fourth republic from 1999. This, together with the pressures from the external world, the economic necessities (debt crisis, US government restrictions on interaction with Nigeria, economic sanctions) and internal pro-democracy pressure after years of despotism, made Obasanjo embark on a reform process that is still going on.
Obasanjo recruited a truly impressive and impeccable team of technocrats (energetic young technocrats that he referred to as his ‘apostles’) to clean up some of Nigeria’s decades-long mess.
These included the Finance Minister Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the Minister of Solid Minerals Obi Ezekwesili, Governor of the Central Bank Charles Soludo, and the Chairman of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission Nuhu Ribadu (Shaxson 2007:150). Anti-corruption and
political/administrative reforms were high on the agenda.
However, even this reform team came to understand that it could not take on the most prominent members of the ‘political class’, and the reforms and anti-corruption actions seemed to be limited and rather ‘selective’. Some opponents and rivals were subjected to surveillance, investigation and imprisonment, whilst other people and some institutions and practices seemed to be left out of the anti-corruption and clean government zeal. This included former president Babangida and certain State governors, oil theft by well-connected crime syndicates and military
31 This is line with other African countries and a core element of neo-patrimonialism; the list of nominations lists the people personally dependent on presidential favours, as he can dismiss them (almost) at will at any time.
32 It is estimated that the federal Public Complaints Commission is considering about 80 cases of appeal against arbitrary dismissal or termination by aggrieved civil servants in the federal civil service.
officials, and big spending on the elections and electoral fraud (necessary for Obasanjo and the party to win the 2003 and 2007 elections) (Falola and Heaton 2008:271-275; Shaxson 2007:151).
Besides, favouritist practices continued for instance in the granting of oil concessions to companies owned by people close to Obasanjo. ‘Power politics’ continued for instance in the bullying of a large tract of São Tomé and Príncipe’s continental shelf into a ‘Joint Development Zone’, and in the removal of the reformist Minister of Finance, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala. (When she had done the job of cleaning up the debt burden, she was “eased out of government”, according to Shaxson 2007:151). Later, also the Chairman of the EFCC, Nuhu Ribadu, was ‘temporarily removed’ from his position.
These examples demonstrate the limits of Obasanjo’s reforms. Anti-corruption can well be a means to deal with rivals and enemies (and to win friends in the West), some governance reforms can be necessary to clean up the house (and to win friends in the West), and better accounting can give access to new loans. However, the vested interests of the ruling elite or ‘political class’ in controlling the oil state were not meant to be challenged.
Obasanjo’s successor, President Umaru Musa Yar’Adua was also a reformist, at least in terms of his speeches, but he was far more restrained and discreet, less powerful and severely inhibited by his bad health. The expressed will to push reforms forward was there, through for instance his declaration of assets and a seven-point agenda for reform, but Yar’Adua seemed to be lacking the muscle required to back it up. He was also more of a ‘governors’ man’, surrounded by reform-opposed politicians able to block many of the more important reform processes.
Today, there are again coming many positive signals from the ‘king in the Villa’. President Goodluck Jonathan, who took over as Acting President in February 2010 and as President of the Republic following Yar’Adua’s death in May 2010,33 has already signalled a number of good action priorities for his administration:
Our domestic focus must be on electoral reforms, delivering peace dividends to the Niger Delta and the rest of the country and standing strong on our resolve against corruption (This Day, 12 April 2010).
Born in 1957 in the oil-rich Niger Delta region, Mr Jonathan is a Christian from the small Ijaw ethnic group. Elected deputy governor in 1999 for his home state, Bayelsa, and later Governor, he was serving his time without particular distinction. He was handpicked by former President Obasanjo to run on the ruling PDP ticket as vice-presidential candidate in 2007. It has been
suggested that Nigeria’s ‘political class’ of power-brokers agreed to let him become Vice President and Acting President only because he was not seen as a threat, but the speed and relative
smoothness of his assumption of power may suggest more resolve and ambition.
Anyway, Jonathan’s political will for true reforms will be seen in his actions. It has been argued that his willpower for reform will be seen in his nominations together with his resolve to ensure the elections of 2011 are free and fair. Regarding nominations, the nomination of Alhaji Namadi Sambo as Vice-President can be seen both as a concession to the powerful group of governors and senators (Sambo was the governors’ recommended choice), a concession to the zoning principle (Sambo is a northerner), as well as a step in the direction of reforms (Sambo was a relatively progressive Governor of Kaduna State).
The recent appointment of Alhaji Shehu Ladan as the Group Managing Director of the NNPC is a step in the direction of speeding up the restructuring of the company (‘to clean up the place and put the finances in order’) and the oil industry through the Petroleum Industry Bill (PIB),
33 President Umaru Yar’Adua went to Saudi Arabia for treatment of pericarditis (a heart problem) in November 2009, and he was not seen in public again until he died on 5 May 2010 at the Aso Rock presidential villa in Abuja.
expected to be passed into law by the National Assembly soon (This Day, 18 May 2010).34 It can also be seen as a step in the direction of executive control of the industry itself.
The ultimate test of Jonathan’s reform will is, however, his coming decision on whether or not to stand for president in the 2011 presidentials. If he chooses to stand, he will have to resort to all the mechanisms of power politics, clientelism and patronage, and reforms will have to wait. If he chooses not to stand, he can spend his presidential powers on holding free and fair elections.